Theatre of Blood

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Theatre of Blood
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDouglas Hickox
Produced byGustave Berne
Sam Jaffe
John Kohn
Stanley Mann
Written byAnthony Greville-Bell (screenplay),
Stanley Mann & John Kohn (idea)
StarringVincent Price
Diana Rigg
Ian Hendry
Music byMichael J. Lewis
CinematographyWolfgang Suschitzky
Edited byMalcolm Cooke
Harbour Productions Limited
Cineman Productions
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • 5 April 1973 (1973-04-05)
Running time
104 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$1 million (US/ Canada rentals)[1]

Theatre of Blood (also known in the U.S. as Theater of Blood) is a 1973 British horror comedy film directed by Douglas Hickox and starring Vincent Price as vengeful actor Edward Lionheart and Diana Rigg as his daughter Edwina. The cast includes distinguished actors Harry Andrews, Coral Browne, Robert Coote, Jack Hawkins, Ian Hendry, Michael Hordern, Arthur Lowe, Joan Hickson, Robert Morley, Milo O'Shea, Diana Dors and Dennis Price.


After being humiliated (as he perceives it) by members of the Theatre Critics Guild at a coveted awards ceremony, Shakespearean actor Edward Kendal Sheridan Lionheart (Vincent Price) is seen committing suicide by diving into the Thames from a great height. Unbeknownst to the public, Lionheart survives and is rescued by a group of vagrants. Two years later, on 15 March, Lionheart sets out to exact vengeance against the critics who failed to acclaim his genius, killing them one by one in a manner very similar to murder scenes from Shakespeare's plays.

The first critic, George Maxwell, is murdered by a mob of homeless people, suggested by the murder of Caesar in "Julius Caesar". The second, Hector Snipe, is stabbed with a spear and his body dragged away, tied to a horse's tail replicating the murder of Hector from "Troilus & Cressida". The third, Horace Sprout, is decapitated while sleeping as was Cloton in "Cymbeline". The fourth critic, Trevor Dickman, has his heart cut out by Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice", rewriting the play so that Antonio is forced to repay his debt with a pound of flesh. The fifth, Oliver Larding, is drowned in a barrel of wine as is the Duke of Clarence in "Richard III". The sixth critic, Solomon Psaltery, an obsessively jealous man, murders his wife believing her to be unfaithful, as portrayed by "Othello". Although this critic survives, his actions lead to his imprisonment and it is speculated, due to his age, that he would die in prison. The seventh critic, Miss Chloe Moon, the only female victim, is electrocuted to replicate the burning of Joan of Arc in "Henry VI: Part One". The eighth critic, Meredith Merridew, a flamboyant gourmand, is force fed pies made from the meat of his dogs (whom he regards as his 'babies') until he suffocates; replicating the death of Queen Tamara in "Titus Andronicus" who was fed her children in a pie. Having survived multiple lacerations during a fencing bout with Lionheart in the duel scene from "Romeo & Juliet", Peregrine Devlin, the final critic, survives again, when he is rescued just before being blinded with burning knives, as was Gloucester in "King Lear".

Lionheart’s adoring daughter Edwina is arrested as the chief suspect (it is revealed early in the movie that she has indeed been helping her father), forcing the actor to reveal himself. In the final drama/murder attempt, Lionheart threatens chief critic Devlin to give him the coveted award or be killed. Devlin refuses, and Lionheart plans to put out his eyes with red-hot daggers, as with Gloucester in "King Lear". His contraption gets stuck, however, just as the police arrive to save Devlin. To thwart them, Lionheart sets fire to the theatre, and in the confusion, one of the vagrants kills Edwina with the award statuette, unwittingly casting her in the role of Cordelia. Lionheart retreats, carrying her body to the roof and delivering Lear's final monologue before the roof caves in, sending him to his death.


Like other movies in the last years of his life, Hawkins is dubbed by his good friend Charles Gray.

Critical reception[edit]

This film was reportedly a favorite of Price's, as he had always wanted the chance to act in Shakespeare, but found himself typecast because of his work in horror films.[2] Diana Rigg regards this as her best film.

Before or after each death in the film, Lionheart recites passages of Shakespeare, giving Price a chance to deliver choice speeches such as Hamlet's famous third soliloquy ("To be, or not to be, that is the question..."); Mark Antony's self-serving eulogy for Caesar from Julius Caesar ("Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears..."); "Now is the winter of our discontent..." from the beginning of Richard III; and finally, the raving of the mad King Lear at the loss of his faithful daughter.

The film is sometimes considered to be a spoof or homage of The Abominable Dr. Phibes.[3][4] Similarities with the earlier film include a presumed-dead protagonist (who is a professional performer) seeking revenge, nine intended victims (one of whom works directly with Scotland Yard and survives), themed murders rooted in literature, a young female sidekick, etc. Theatre of Blood had become critically acclaimed, maintaining a 96% "fresh" approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus "Deliciously campy and wonderfully funny, Theater of Blood features Vincent Price at his melodramatic best.".

Filming locations[edit]

Theatre of Blood was filmed entirely on location. Lionheart's fictional hideout, the "Burbage Theatre", was actually the Putney Hippodrome in London, built in 1906, which had been vacant and dilapidated for over a decade before being used in the film. It was later demolished in 1975 to make way for housing units. The Hippodrome was also used in director Hickox's previous film, Sitting Target (1972) with Oliver Reed and Ian McShane. Lionheart's tomb is a Sievier family monument in Kensal Green Cemetery and shows the sculpted figures of a seated man, one hand placed on the head of a woman kneeling in adoration, while the other holds the Bible, its pages opened to a passage from the Gospel of Luke. The monument was altered for the film by plaster masks of Price and Rigg substituted for the real ones; the Bible became a volume of Shakespeare and there is a suitable engraving at the front with Lionheart's name and dates. Peregrine Devlin's impressive Thames-side apartment was in reality the penthouse flat at Alembic House (now known as Peninsula Heights) on the Albert Embankment.[5] The property became the London home of novelist and disgraced politician Jeffrey Archer.[6]

Stage adaptation[edit]

The film was adapted for the stage by the British company Improbable, with Jim Broadbent playing Edward Lionheart and Rachael Stirling, Diana Rigg's daughter, playing the role her mother essayed, Lionheart's daughter. The play differs from the film in that the critics are from British newspapers (examples including The Guardian and The Times) and is entirely set in an abandoned theatre. The play remains set in the 1970s, rather than being updated to contemporary times.[7] Most of the secondary characters were excised including police and the number of deaths reduced. The killings based on Othello and Cymbeline are omitted as they would have to take place outside the theatre and rely on secondary characters, such as the critics' wives. The name of Lionheart's daughter is changed from "Edwina" to "Miranda" to enhance the Shakespearean influence. The adaptation ran in London at the National Theatre between May and September 2005 and received mixed reviews.

Price and Coral Browne[edit]

Vincent Price was introduced to his future wife Coral Browne by Diana Rigg during the making of the film. Browne recalled in a television documentary Caviar To The General in 1990, that she had not wanted to make "one of those scary Vincent Price movies" but she was persuaded to take the part of Chloe Moon by her friends Robert Morley and Michael Hordern, acknowledging that the film thus had a very strong cast. Rigg introduced the couple, ignorant of the fact that Price was married.[8]


  1. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 60
  2. ^ Gary J. Svehla & Susan Svehla, Vincent Price Midnight Marquee Actors Series, ISBN 1-887664-21-1, page 267
  3. ^ "Theater Of Blood". Eccentric Cinema. Retrieved 11 February 2014.
  4. ^ "Theatre of Blood". Retrieved 11 February 2014.
  5. ^ James, Simon (2007). London Film Location Guide. Chrysalis Books. p. 146.
  6. ^ Denyer, Lucy (17 December 2006). "Good day at the office". The Sunday Times. Times Newspapers. Retrieved 17 November 2008.
  7. ^ "Show Detail". Improbable. Archived from the original on 18 February 2015. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  8. ^ Coral Browne: 'This Effing Lady', by Rose Collis, Oberon Books, ISBN 978-1-84002-764-8

External links[edit]